Discreetly ecological, on a grand scale

Nottingham-based CPMG Architects spoke to ADF’s Tom Boddy about their phase of an extensive hotel and spa complex under construction west of Shanghai, which is driven by sustainability and embedded into the landscape

Situated two hours west of Shanghai and near one of the largest freshwater lakes in China, a sprawling resort is taking shape on the site of a disused quarry.

Named Inlong Narada Resort, the scheme’s masterplan extends over 530 acres, and will feature a variety of leisure amenities such as a ‘spa centre’ and luxurious villas, as well as a reception building, restaurants, and a 20,000 m2 family park.

CPMG Architects has been entrusted by the Narada Hotel Group to spearhead the latest phase of the project. Since April 2022, the firm’s international base in Hangzhou (the capital of Zheijang province), has been leading the design process. Sitting in a remote location, the overarching ambition is to transform the former quarry into a major tourist destination, attracting visitors from all corners of China.

A key element of the scheme is to create a sustainable development that has minimal impact on the environment. As such, the design is built around eco-friendly principles, while the resort’s facilities are crafted to blend seamlessly with the surrounding landscape.

Project origins

Mining operations at the expansive quarry where the development is sited had ceased over a decade ago due to it being exhausted of its resources, according to Amy Zhao, manager of CPMG’s Hangzhou office, located just south west of Shanghai.

The quarry was owned by a man who grew up in the area with his family. When the mining contract came to an end, he saw an opportunity to repurpose the site into something that would benefit the local community. His vision was twofold: To create employment opportunities, and enhance the local environment. With this in mind, the owner invested a considerable sum in measures to safeguard the land against potential landslides. Over this time, he recognised the site had the potential to be developed into a substantial resort.

The initial phases of the project have seen local companies take on some of the designs of the resort. However, as the project’s scope became more apparent, the owner sought out the expertise of Narada Group, one of China’s leading hotel firms, to manage and oversee the resort’s operations.

Being aware of CPMG’s masterplanning capabilities in China, and as part of their growing relationship Narada’s CEO introduced the site owner to CPMG Architects. He was impressed by Zhao’s extensive experience in masterplanning and urban design from projects across the UK, the Middle East, and China, and decided to employ CPMG to design a comprehensive masterplan for the resort. Building on the success of CPMG’s work at Inlong Resort, Narada has now introduced CPMG to another project – the Peach Blossom Hotel in Hangzhou.

Richard Flisher, managing director at CPMG Architects, explains how this project is an “interesting departure” from the practice’s usual work. While they have completed a large number of leisure facilities, these have been “much more sports-focused.”

They have however worked with Center Parcs on the design of some hotels, and therefore this project builds on their expertise from successful commissions undertaken in the UK.

The practice’s connection with China was cemented when Zhao, then working in the London office, decided to move back to her home country. Building on her and Flisher’s “long standing professional relationship,” they established an international base in Hangzhou, which Zhao has been managing since 2016.

Retrofitting a masterplan

The sheer scale of the project, with a lot of elements already underway onsite, has posed several challenges for the team. With CPMG being brought in at a later stage, two hotels had already been built without their involvement. Upon reviewing the current designs, the architects firstly noted that the buildings were isolated due to their location, with limited access.

To enhance the site’s appeal and turn it into a sought-after tourist destination, the architects suggested introducing additional functions such as a spa centre, villas, as well as a large family park, as part of “trying to make sense of it all,” explains Flisher. “With Narada’s help, we hope to transform it into a destination that really works.” He adds: “it’s been like retrofitting a masterplan.”

The owner was impressed with the new designs and contracted the architects to deliver detailed designs for the public areas such as the reception building, as well as other parts of the scheme which were not initially included in their brief.

Design evolution

The architects initially envisioned a unique tribute to the site’s mining heritage, with the intention of constructing a “stone village” out of the existing quarry site. The vision was to construct all buildings using stone, so they’d appear as though they had emerged from the quarry itself.

However, as the design progressed, the project’s materiality evolved to comprise both natural stone and timber, as well as organic materials including green roofs and abundant vegetation. Zhao further elaborates that the design is a fusion of “both traditional and modern elements.”

Building within the ex-quarry – and on a site of natural beauty – presented some “interesting opportunities and challenges,” asserts Flisher. He says that it was a vital project aimed to create a symbiotic relationship between the buildings and surrounding landscape. As he explains, this required careful consideration to ensure the buildings were positioned and formed in a way that respects the landscape while maximising the site’s potential.

With the structures centred around the lake (but elevated above the lakeside and sitting on complex terrain), the architects adopted what Flisher describes as a “free approach to the levels.” This led to their strategy of excavating into the quarry so that the buildings “go into the ground as much as they come out of it.” Fortunately, as the client is a quarry operator who “doesn’t mind digging holes,” says Flisher, these ideas were practical to realise.

Spa centre & villas

The spa, which is still in the concept phase, sits at the top of a hill, its volumes descending with the gradient towards the lake, which was formed from a 100 metre deep section of the quarry that has been filled with rainwater. Despite being man-made, surrounded by steep cliffs it creates what Flisher describes as an “amazing landscape” which the spa design takes full advantage of.

Spanning an area of 6,000 m2, the design for the spa comprises three levels (basement, ground and first) and features natural elements such as timber and stone to generate a nurturing ambience. Upon entering, visitors descend a monumental staircase that leads them down to the ‘underground’ levels. As they reach the end, striking views of the lake are provided through the open rear elevation. The designers’ aim, which was a “fundamental design point,” says Flisher, was to create a sense of “progressing downwards towards the water.”

There’s a central courtyard with water features and planting, harnessing nature to aid a feeling of “contemplation.” The building is oriented towards the courtyard and the lake, providing occupants with scenic views from every angle.

The spa treatment areas themselves are sat within the crook of the L-shaped infinity pool which the architects believe is one of the largest in China. This setting, combined with the bespoke-created monopitch timber roof, produces a “distinctive environment” for the pool that distinguishes it from the rest of the building. Flisher explains that it was a key aim to draw daylight into this area, while offering views out of either end.

Despite it being a concept they developed, tackling the design of the spa centre was something entirely new for both Zhao and Flisher. “It’s a really interesting building typology to be involved with,” asserts Flisher.

Closely associated with the spa centre within the masterplan are 37 luxurious villas; CPMG has crafted two types, each offering a “unique experience” to guests; one with a lake view, the other offering views of the mountains.

The lakeside villas are designed to be spacious and elegant, featuring multiple bedrooms, a living area, a kitchen, and a workspace, with a private swimming pool and garden area. However, like the spa, the villas’ forms will “bury themselves down into the rock,” says Flisher. This allows for an underground room that extends out over the quarry, offering immersive views of the lake.

The villas also incorporate the natural stone found in the immediate vicinity, creating a design that sits harmoniously within its surroundings. The use of timber adds a touch of warmth, while the villa’s large windows throughout the design maximise the views from all angles.

A warm reception

The reception building provides a strikingly modern welcome for visitors to the Inlong Narada Resort. The resort’s plans to include a vast range of onsite amenities made an area for check-ins a necessity, and this building will fulfil that requirement.

The reception building is designed to cater to a wide range of needs of arriving guests, including washrooms, offices, and ample parking facilities. “It’s almost like an airport lounge – guests arrive and linger a while, and then move on to where they need to be,” explains Flisher.

The building’s form is “essentially that of a pure ellipse,” says Flisher, with large canopies protruding from either side of the structure. Currently under construction, the reception building is due to be the first structure completed in the next phase of the project, expected to be open in May.

While each building boasts “very different forms and are bespoke to their functions,” says Flisher, there is some commonality between the different elements. For example, the buildings present a common material palette of stone and timber running throughout their designs.

Another key example is found in the impressive entrances with large canopies found on many of the buildings. This was partly a result of a concept that further groups the buildings together – namely a dragon theme running throughout the design. The name ‘Inlong’ translates as ‘Dragon Valley,’ which stems from an ancient legend that a dragon hides somewhere in the valley, explains Zhao.

The architects have fully expressed this concept in the canopies of the reception buildings and the exterior of the spa, which have been designed to subtly evoke dragons’ wings. This is one example of how the design demonstrates cultural sensitivity and creates a “relationship with the history of the site,” says Zhao.

Nature & sustainabilty

As part of the overall masterplan, the design team took on the role of landscape architects for the resort. From the outset, their emphasis has been on enhancing the features of the quarry to resemble a natural landscape. “You wouldn’t say it looks like an old quarry,” says Zhao, “it’s almost like the UK’s Lake District.”

To achieve this result, the team incorporated a variety of indigenous plants and trees into the scheme. As well as reducing the resort’s embodied carbon footprint, this also minimises maintenance, says Zhao, while helping the building tie in with the local nature. Part of the landscape design will also feature lakeside campsites as well as scenic walks.

In addition to these features, a substantial 20,000 m2 ‘family park’ has been proposed. CPMG has also been involved in its design, which includes a large play area which will provide an exciting and enjoyable space for visitors of all ages.

The resort has integrated sustainability into its design by adopting a range of ‘eco-regenerative’ design measures. While the designs haven’t undergone a certification process, the scheme incorporates “key principles” of sustainable design including various elements reportedly designed to Passivhaus levels.

With the region’s climate being subtropical, the focus wasn’t on the heating the buildings, and was primarily about keeping them cool, while controlling humidity. As solar gains are a “real issue” in this area of China, says Flisher, CPMG has included shading measures to the buildings, along with MVHR systems to ensure air quality. “We also had to introduce cooling systems because in the summer temperatures can get extremely hot,” says Flisher.

CPMG are a practice that strives to apply Passivhaus elements in their projects, but it has been done on a case-by-case basis in this project.  “We look at every building type and see what elements are relevant, and what can be applied,” explains Flisher.

A unique aspect of the sustainability strategy is how the water for the spa is heated. In this region, it is common to use geothermal wells to provide natural heating to nearby structures. To utilise this sustainable approach for the spa, a 2000 metre deep geothermal well is set to be dug just 200 metres away from the building, to supply water for the infinity pool.

In recognition of the importance of water conservation, the resort will incorporate water-saving fixtures in all its rooms, and install a rainwater harvesting system to collect and store rainwater for irrigation purposes. The natural materials used such as stone and timber are locally sourced where possible from nearby supply chains.


The Inlong Narada Resort is set to be a substantial example of modern – and sustainable – leisure sector masterplanning, creating a set of buildings that sit unobtrusively in their setting. Its combination of Passivhaus elements, luxurious amenities and respect for landscape is leading to a dynamic and innovative yet subtle scheme that marks it out among international projects.

Despite being engaged later on in the process, the architect’s designs have been well-received by the client and are set to transform the once-remote site into a major destination. “It’s a joy and a fascination working in China,” says Flisher. He adds that one major change is “the speed at which they work out there compared with UK projects,” which is “just astonishing.”

While some sections of the resort are expected to be completed in May, other sections such as the spa centre will be finished in the second half of the year.

The CEO of the Narada Group is impressed with the architects’ work, which bodes well for further opportunities in China, says Zhao. She concludes: “I have really enjoyed working on the resort, as it’s not something I’ve done before. It’s been a really fascinating process.”